Vivek Singh: The spirit alive
I have always been a fighter. I don’t know how to live a life of failure. Main ladoonga.”
And fight he did against cancer, bravely and focussedly, like he did playing hockey. While Vivek Singh eventually succumbed to the dreaded disease in early 2005, these words continue to bring tears to his fellow Olympian and brother Rahul Singh, to this day.
Along with braving the dreaded C, Vivek’s bigger struggle during life’s end was the government’s apathy. And yet, while it might be late, vindication, if you can call it that, has finally come. In the form of a Swarna Kamal being awarded to the documentary film, And We Play On, for the best non-feature film at the 59th National Awards.The film, broadly shot in Varanasi where the late player’s family hails from, takes the viewer to the past, showing Vivek Singh’s life just as it throws a light on the future through the young hockey players who are being trained at the Vivek Singh Academy in Varanasi.
But the documentary almost never happened. Or, at least it wasn’t what it’s director and producer, Pramod Purswane had initially planned for. Pramod recalls, “I had approached Rahul with a film titled Khushi, about a girl who nurses ambitions of being a hockey player but dies from cancer. This was the time when Chak De had released so we eventually dropped it. Rahul however felt that the story was quite close to his brother’s.” Meeting the family at Varanasi convinced Pramod that “Vivek’s story was much more real”.
Over time, he started to get to learn moreabout Vivek, “interesting things about him,” like learning that, “he was a tough guy on the ground and was considered “The Wall” of Indian hockey.”
However, the turning point that convinced Pramod to think about making a film on Vivek came when he learnt that he “didn’t die well”.
“There was a lot of apathy around his death but his family, instead of feeling bitter about the entire experience, is running an academy of hockey, today. There was a good irony there that attracted me to make a film,” reminisces the film maker.
For someone who spent a big chunk of his career working on reality TV shows, making a documentary film was like getting into a “completely different space; it was a complete wake up call.”“You grow up as a person,” explains Pramod adding, “There are no gimmicks you can rely on, so, you have got to be completely honest about your subject.”
And while he reveals that he got into the project, “with complete dishonesty, I was not interested because I thought it wouldn’t change my life,” “the honesty” of the late sportsman’s family, nicknamed by the media in UP as the Khel Gharana changed him.
With no hard -bound script, the 50-minute long film features hockey greats like Dhanraj Pillay,Mohd. Shahid, Jokhim Carvalho, MM Somaiya, Harinder Singh, Sayed Ali, Cedric D’Souza, Gavin Ferreira, Clarence Lobo, Ramesh Pillay, Gundeep Singh and Shailendra Singh and Vivek’s father, Gaurishankar Singh and brothers talking about him. There’s also footage of Vivek Singh playing; footage that Rahul Singh reveals, “we managed to source from Sports Authority of India, among others.”
Once again, like the making of the film, the idea to submit it to the National Awards was unplanned and quite last minute. Rahul remembers, “People suggested that we send the film to the awards during the editing process.” What encouraged the two to place confidence in And We Play On was the reaction the documentary evoked in whoever watched it. Pramod adds, “Everyone cries when they see the film. There is no multi-layered approach. It’s a simple narrative of a man, and is quite touching.”And so, despite a failure to get sponsors to get a theatrical release for the documentary, Pramod submitted his film to the National Awards barely days before the last date for entries.
The award, unexpected as it is, comes as a wonderful surprise. That the film on hockey comes at a time when the nation has finally woken up to Indian hockey pleases Rahul Singh, assistant coach to Pune Strykers, no end.
“I will be the happiest if the film inspires anyone to want to learn hockey,” he says. With the award being given on May 3, Pramod’s focus right now is to “receive the award first.”
After the award ceremony, the duo plan to premiere the film first in Varanasi and Mumbai. They also intend to distribute DVDs to schools and colleges across the country to promote hockey Proceeds from the DVDs sale will go toward supporting ailing hockey players.
“Sportsmen give so much to the country, this is the least we can do,” rues Rahul. His brother would be happy, we reckon.
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